Health

Even though we talk about health factors in a specially dedicated place in our page, we repeat some of same things here because it is extremely important. You should start your trip with a visit to the doctor. If you are from a cold country/state, or just not used to the heat and humidity, you will be in for a shock, especially if you travel to South America during their summer (which is during winter in the Northern Hemisphere).  All around you there will be new pollens and the potential for jungle-only bacteria and viruses.  Then there is the ayahuasca itself – a drink you know will produce visions and cause you to vomit.  Your doctor can advise you if the trip is safe based on your current health.

Your doctor can also ensure that any medications you currently take will not interfere with the MAOI ingredients in ayahuasca. MAOIs also impact what you can eat, since it interacts with foods that contain tyramine such as cheese or fermented foods like beer, vegemite, and soy sauce.  This amino acid is also produced by the body, and usually any levels that the body does not need are broken down and eliminated by monoamine oxidase. Since caapi inhibits this process, the combination of all three sources can raise blood pressure to unsafe levels, possibly due to excessive amounts of norepinephrine. Though it is rare, this spike in blood pressure can lead to stroke, arrhythmia, or even death.  Because of this blood pressure issue, MAOIs were actually removed from the US pharmaceutical market for a time, and now are only carefully prescribed.

Your shaman should be sure that the foods available at the retreat center will not cause any interference with the MAOI in the drink.  That is why retreat centers usually will put you under their “dieta” during the days you are taking Ayahuasca.

MAOIs can also interfere with other herbs like St. John’s Wort or supplements like tryptophan, which causes a separate serious reaction called serotonin syndrome.  These reactions can range from mild (increased pulse or twitching) up to high blood pressure, an increase in body temperature as high as 104 degrees, all the way up to shock and renal failure. 

You should also let your doctor know you are going to be drinking ayahuasca in case there are any lingering psychotropic effects.  Now, you should be aware that many doctors in the west will disagree with any herbal or tribal medications, so be prepared to face some backlash when you talk to your doctor.  Some doctors may be more accepting than others, too.  If you do face any resistance to your plan, be sure to steer the conversation back to your overall health situation for travel and to see if you have any medication interaction concerns.

Once your doctor has cleared you physically, you will want to be sure you get any necessary immunizations. Most national state department websites will have a list of required immunizations based on the country to which you plan to travel.  They will also be able to advise you of any known health risks in the area.  Some major medical universities will also have this information. 

One immunization you should be sure is up to date is your tetanus shot.  If you contract tetanus, it will kill you, but it is also perfectly preventable by getting your immunization first.  You should also be sure some of your other childhood vaccinations are current, like polio, DPT (diphtheria, pertussis or whooping cough, tetanus), and measles/mumps/rubella (German measles). 

There are also two types of hepatitis virus present that you will want to be sure you prepare for.  Hep-A is food- and water-borne through contamination by feces. Hep-B is spread by other humans though bodily fluids. 

Malaria is spread most often by mosquitoes, and you can get some injections prior to travel, plus you may be able to take anti-malarial medications with you.  These medications have their own set of potential for hallucinations, so your shaman should know if you have taken any so he can adjust your ayahuasca mix.

If you wish, you can ask your doctor for a prescription for an all-purpose antibiotic, since the water in the area may be contaminated, and you may need to treat diarrhea or any urinary tract infections that result. 

Carry some sunscreen, insect repellent, and cortisone cream with you on your trip to keep down any itching.  You do not want to scratch so much that you open the skin and create a way for infection to start.

When you are ready to return, you may need to have some vaccinations in order to return to your home country.

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